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Nation in brief

Senators vote for easier approval of judges

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2003

WASHINGTON - With the Senate locked in a fiercely partisan stalemate over President Bush's conservative judicial nominees and news of a Supreme Court vacancy possibly days away, Republicans on a key committee Tuesday approved what would be a historic change in the chamber's rules on confirming federal judges.

The odds are long that the proposal, crafted by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., will be approved by the full Senate, where it can take 67 votes - a broad bipartisan margin in the closely divided chamber - to alter the rules. But the measure's approval by the Senate Rules Committee marks the beginning of an intense legislative push by Republicans to crush Democratic attempts to block Bush's judicial candidates.

There was not a Democrat to be found at the Rules Committee Tuesday as the 10 Republicans on the panel voted unanimously, with just minutes of debate and little fanfare, in favor of Frist's proposal. The measure would reduce the margin required to break a filibuster on a judicial nomination from three-fifths - or 60 votes - to a simple majority of 51 votes.

Passage of the resolution, which is unlikely to come up for a floor vote until mid July at the earliest, would make it impossible for senators to block indefinitely an up-or-down vote on a judicial nominee.

The unusual effort to modify the rules comes as Democrats are filibustering two Bush administration federal appeals court nominees: Miguel A. Estrada and Priscilla Owen.

House approves billions for Homeland Security

WASHINGTON - The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve the first bill to finance the new Department of Homeland Security and shower $29.4-billion on local emergency workers, airport screeners and a new drive against bioterrorism.

Though they supported it unanimously, Democrats said the Republican-written measure would fall short of meeting the nation's needs for protecting ports, borders and airports.

The House approved the measure 425-2. The Senate has yet to produce its version of the legislation.

Judge: New York erred in firing over racist float

NEW YORK - The city violated the First Amendment rights of two firefighters and a police officer when it fired them for riding on a parade float in blackface in 1998, a judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge John E. Sprizzo said the government "may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because a segment of society finds it offensive."

Study gives green light to smallpox vaccinations

WASHINGTON - The large-scale smallpox vaccinations of U.S. military personnel were conducted so safely that President Bush's civilian vaccination effort should be able to proceed at a much faster rate than it has so far, a study published Tuesday found.

The study of the nearly half-million, mostly young military personnel who were ordered to be vaccinated between December and May found that only a handful experienced serious, adverse side effects. None died, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Several hospitals and public health departments are proceeding carefully with the vaccinations, still wary of the rashes, encephalitis and heart problems linked with the disease.

Senate approves new Air Force Academy head

WASHINGTON - The Senate approved the nomination of Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa to lead efforts in a sweeping series of changes at the scandal-plagued Air Force Academy.

Rosa's appointment and 211 other officer nominations had been delayed since late May by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who sought to force the Air Force to honor a promise to add four air transport planes at an Air National Guard base in his state.

GM recalls about 254,000 2000-03 Saturn cars

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. is recalling about 254,000 of its Saturn L-Series cars from model years 2000-03 to correct an engine problem that has led to fires.

GM (www.gm.com) said Tuesday it plans to begin notifying owners of the cars, which are equipped with 2.2-liter engines, next month.

GM said it will replace the ignition module and spark plugs on the cars.

On 2002-03 models, GM said mechanics will reprogram the powertrain control module.

The repairs will be done at no charge to the customer.

Also ..

TORNADOES CLAIM SECOND VICTIM: Deadly tornadoes struck Nebraska for the second day in a row as small towns cleaned up after wind damage and flooding. One tornado struck Coleridge, about 30 miles north of Norfolk in northeastern Nebraska, killing a man who was pinned under an overturned tractor, said Corey King of the National Weather Service in Valley. Sunday's tornadoes killed one man in Deshler.

TRUCK DRIVER PLEADS INNOCENT IN SMUGGLING CASE: Truck driver Tyrone Williams pleaded innocent Tuesday along with Norma Gonzalez Sanchez and Erica Cardenas to roles in a May smuggling operation that led to the deaths of 19 immigrants who were abandoned in a stifling trailer.

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